Complaints and Litigation - Health Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. The NHS in England has embarked on a period of substantial change. The requirement to deliver a 4% efficiency gain, four years running (the "Nicholson Challenge") is creating unprecedented demands on all staff of the service; at the same time there is considerable uncertainty about the future management structure of the service. Yet despite this uncertainty, the Committee is reminded of the dedication and professionalism of the NHS workforce, even when radical change is underway.

2. Patients have the expectation of, and are frequently given, world class care and treatment by the NHS. Sometimes experience falls well below the high standards expected, and when this happens patients should have access to a responsive and effective complaints system. However, the NHS complaints system sometimes compounds and exacerbates the negative experiences of patients. In such situations, patients have little choice but to give up or turn to the legal system. It is worth noting that the motivation of complainants is often not to seek compensation for failures of care but rather to have their concerns listened to and acted upon in order to reduce the likelihood of similar failings happening again.

3. The Committee has taken evidence from people who have complained about the failures in the care, treatment and professional standards given by Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and in other NHS provider organisations in England. However, our report has been prepared before we have learned the outcome of the Mid Staffordshire inquiry and we are not seeking to reach judgements on what happened there. We thank those who gave evidence before the Committee for their bravery, and for the valuable contribution that they have made. We also thank the many other people who have sent us written submissions detailing the failings in care that they have experienced. Other reports into failures in the NHS have also informed our work, including the Shipman, Neale and Ayling inquiries.[2]

4. There are unwarranted variations in how the complaints system works across England, some elements of the system are ineffective, and the cultures that exist often do not support effective resolution and redress. The Committee's objective is to look at how the complaints system can be further strengthened to give good and timely outcomes for patients, contain the costs of litigation and ensure that the NHS learns from complaints; it is a key objective that the experience derived from proper consideration of complaints should lead to changes and improvements in the care available to other patients. The Committee recognises that complaints are only one form of patient experience feedback and that many other, less adversarial, means to give feedback about the NHS are available to patients.

2   The independent public inquiry into the issues arising from the case of Harold Fredrick Shipman, the independent investigation into how the NHS handled allegations about the conduct of Clifford Ayling and the investigation into how the NHS handled allegations about the performance and conduct of Richard Neale. Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 28 June 2011